WASHINGTON — Speaking outside at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in sub-freezing temperatures, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced Wednesday a program to fund a new youth conservation initiative — the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.
With members of the Student Conservation Association arrayed behind her, Jewell said American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. would be the first corporate partner in the program on the strength of a $1 million contribution. Jewell said the money, the first step toward a $20 million goal, will go directly to the corps’ programs for youth to restore parks, monitor endangered populations and help other volunteers preserve America’s wilderness.
The location picked for the announcement was significant as Jewell made sure to connect her agency’s new corps initiative with the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, created in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of his signature “New Deal” programs.
Helga Ying, American Eagle’s vice president of external engagement and social responsibility, spoke after Jewell to reiterate the company’s commitment to community engagement. In the past, American Eagle has worked with students on conservation efforts such as planting trees, building trails in the Grand Canyon and replacing populations of endangered plants.
There is nothing like the honor of “exposing students to conservation for the first time and watching the light bulb go off,” she said.
Now the company is excited to make its largest contribution yet, Ying said. American Eagle hopes the donation will encourage other corporations to partner with the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, she said. The clothing retailer considers the health of the environment to be a priority and has the “united goal of protecting our planet and serving our country,” Ying said.
Also braving the cold at the event, LaShauntya Moore, Earth Conservation Corps’ youth program coordinator, described her firsthand experience as a conservationist. Beginning the program as a young, single mother who had experienced homelessness, she said the non-profit conservation corps not only helped her get her GED, but taught her important life skills and gave her purpose.
Robert Bonnie, the undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, said the Forrest Service is committed to supporting the 21st Century CSC. Bonnie served as co-chairman of the steering committee on creating the new corps. Although the program is mainly aimed at teenagers, he said that veterans often participate in service corps programs and that doing so aids them in the transition to civilian life.
The announcement was attended by many outdoors-oriented organizations including National Trust, and the National Parks Service, part of the Interior Department.
Attendee Diane Ives works for one such organization, the Kendeda Fund, which helps fund the non-profit Student Conservation Association. Ives said she appreciated that Jewell had challenged corporations to not only invest in the new corps, but also to hire its alums. However, Ives felt that Jewell could have given more emphasis to the leadership and essential job skills that participation in conservation programs give young people.
Jewell reminded those at the event that responsibility for protection of public lands starts with elected officials.
“Private philanthropy should be the margin of excellence,” she said, “Not the margin of survival.”